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UK On-line Shopping Hits New High, Surpasses Growth in US

Britain's leading e-commerce industry group says the UK has overtaken the United States in the growth of on-line shopping. The Interactive Media in Retail Group, or IMRG, says on-line purchases hit a new record last month when UK shoppers spent nearly $6.3 billion US (3.2 billion British pounds) on on-line goods and services. That's 45 percent higher than for the same time last year, compared to 25 percent in the US.

More British shoppers are avoiding the holiday rush and buying their Christmas presents on-line.

"I will be doing a lot of shopping on-line, because I'm away from home. So, it's easiest and I can just ship things home," said one woman.

But armchair shopping in front of a computer is not for everyone. Another holiday shopper said, "Actually not at all. I like to go shopping out in the streets."

Despite some hold-outs, the country's leading e-commerce group says the UK's 25 million on-line shoppers are breaking new records. IMRG Chief Executive James Roper says last month British shoppers spent about $9 million every hour on on-line purchases. "In 2000, this was less than one per cent of retail. This year it passed 10 percent of retail. So 40 per cent growth year on year is absolutely huge."

Roper says the UK accounts for about a third of all on-line purchases in Europe. And in terms of growth, it has already surpassed the United States.

"In terms of America, American retail and European on-line retail are about equivalent by value. It's interesting in the UK, something like 10 percent of on-line shopping happens on the Internet -- I mean, 10 percent of shopping is on the Internet, whereas in America it's 7 percent or less."

But the rapid growth presents a bit of a logistical problem for the state run postal service. James Eadie is a manager for the Royal Mail. "This year to cope with the massive amount of volumes that we have to handle, which includes one hundred million items ordered on-line, we'll be employing thousands of extra people, using 4,000 extra trucks, eight extra train services, 10 extra plane services -- 40 plane services a day instead of 30."

"Nevertheless, Jenny Jones, a Green Party member of the London Assembly, says on-line shopping does have its advantages. "Well, it's obviously, there are quite a few environmental advantages because people are going to make fewer journeys which means the roads will be clearer and there will be less air pollution. So I'd say that is a real plus."

On-line sales are expected to increase exponentially. IMRG estimates British shoppers will spend nearly $14 billion on-line in the ten-week run-up to Christmas.